Ever since Sri Lanka ended a two-and-a-half-decade civil war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE) in 2009, the government has faced questions about alleged violations of human rights and the killing of thousands of civilians during the war. Despite the Sri Lankan government’s initial resistance to exploring these issues, it took a notable stride forward last November when it released the findings and recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC).
In May 2010, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa created the LLRC to begin an inquiry into events that occurred during the civil war. The mandate of the LLRC was to investigate and report on what took place specifically between February 21, 2002 (establishment of the Ceasefire Agreement) and May 19, 2009 (end of the civil war).
The LLRC listened to over 1,000 witness testimonies over a period of a year and a half, finally releasing their report in November 2011. Criticism of the report was not in short supply. The Tamil National Alliance has called the report an illegitimate document, while others said it was a good launching pad for future progress.
Nonetheless, many view the exclusion of any reference to war crimes as suspicious. The report also doesn’t provide details on specific cases of civilian fatalities and instead alludes to “certain incidents,” thus entirely excluding cases where civilians were allegedly killed by the Sri Lankan security forces.
The LLRC cited “non-availability of evidence” throughout much of the report to support omission of human rights violations investigations. The LLRC report directly blames the LTTE for the targeting and killing of civilians while describing civilian casualties caused by the security forces as “caught in the crossfire.” Though the report largely absolves the security forces, it does suggest that deeper investigation be launched into cases where it is unclear who was responsible for civilian deaths in no-fire zones.
The report offers specific recommendations on the treatment of detainees and further investigations into civilian fatalities and missing persons. It proposes an “Independent Advisory Committee” to investigate the treatment of those who were arrested and detained for long periods of time under the Prevention of Terrorism Act.
It also recommends an inquiry into alleged “deliberate attacks on civilians” and more thorough investigations into missing persons and property damage. Specifically, the report suggests that a survey be distributed to the families who suffered loss of property or family members in order to identify the manner of death and injury. It suggests that aid, both legal and financial, be made available to the affected families.
Chapter 8 of the report focuses on reconciliation and ways to promote national unity and maintain a diverse, yet peaceful, citizenry. Specific recommendations include reaching out to minority groups, addressing the grievances of the Tamil people, focusing on returning displaced Muslims to their homes, and rebuilding mosques, houses, and schools. Better resource allocation and development within villages is suggested to prevent tensions between neighboring ethnic groups. Recommendations also include creating an independent police commission that is separated from the state protection body and providing provincial police with better legal tools and expertise.
The LLRC report concedes that the investigation into human rights violations is a vital component to national reconciliation. With the release of the LLRC and its recommendations for further dealing with alleged human rights violations, there is an opportunity to better unite the country and address international criticisms on Sri Lanka’s human rights record.
The LLRC report is a good first step, but it needs to be followed up with action. The U.S. should actively encourage Sri Lanka to follow up on the recommendations made in the LLRC document in order to jumpstart the process of national reconciliation. The U.S. could even offer the Sri Lankan government tools to help carry out its recommendations.
It should be made known to the Sri Lankans that with continued steps toward democracy, and, over time, growing national stability, they will benefit from new sources of trade, foreign investment, aid, and extended hands of friendship from the West.